Written by Rema Zeynalova, Chief Specialist, Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum (ITP 2018, Azerbaijan)
ICOM ICME’s 52nd Annual Conference was held under the title Diversity and Universality as a part of the 25th ICOM General Conference. From 2 to 4 September, the conference had seven sessions and 20 papers tackling various issues. The presenters gave interesting presentations on methods used by museums to engage with diverse audiences and gain a better understanding of what unites human beings around the world, without eliding their differences. This may be through research, conservation, exhibitions, marketing and programming.
Some papers analysed the diverse approaches that museums have developed to safeguard Indigenous heritage and communicate with objects. Other speakers discussed how design and creativity might be employed to prompt learning conversations in museums and during outreach sessions, with a range of diverse objects.
The diversity of papers and speakers helped me, in particular, to benefit from the discussions and see each member of the conference during the subjects. I think it was a great experience to understand other cultures away from us.
A new president of ICME and the board members (for 2019-2022 years) were chosen at the 52nd ICME Annual Meeting held in Kyoto. It was one of the highlights of my life as I was elected as Secretary of ICME. Since the next ICME’s annual conference will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, I presented a paper about the upcoming conference.
On 5 September 2019 – I attended the ICME & CIMCIM Joint off-site meeting at the National Museum of Ethnology (also known as Minpaku), Osaka & Hotel Hankyu Expo Park. During the meeting, participants enjoyed inspiring guided tours of storages, permanent, temporary and special exhibitions, which was guided by Dr Taku Iida (Professor of the Museum).
During the ICME & CIMCIM Joint off-site meeting, two keynote speakers, Professor Yoshida Kenji (Director-General – National Museum of Ethnology), and Mr Shima Kazuhiko (Assistant Director – Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments) presented their experience of past and present ethnographic museum practices. Professor Yoshida Kenji emphasized that the role of the ethnographic museums and collections is now more important than ever. This is to establish a world where, while respecting diverse cultures, we will be able to live together by bridging the gap between different cultures.
Founded in 1974, the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka (Minpaku) is an Inter-University Research Institute, housing a research center and a museum. Minpaku is a museum where you can learn about the ethnic culture of the world. When you go around the galleries, you can feel various ethnic people and become familiar with them. There are exhibitions such as Oceania, America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and display of leading to the culture with music, and so on. As a researcher focusing on Azerbaijani carpets at museums around the world, I was happy to discover that the museum has Azerbaijani carpets in its collection. I want to thank Dr Taku Iida for offering me an album of the Azerbaijani carpets during the meeting. I look forward to a fruitful cooperation with this museum in the near future.
On 6 September, multiple excursion tours were organised by the ICOM Kyoto 2019 Organising Committee for all the participants of the 25th ICOM General Conference. Among these exciting tours, I chose to visit Maizuru, a port town with a fascinating history, located on the scenic Maizuru Bay. After World War II, Maizuru was a principal port for returning Japanese detainees from continental Asia for over 13 years. Today, Maizuru is a central district headquarters for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. In Maizuru, we visited the Repatriation Memorial Museum, which narrates the experiences of Japanese soldiers who were detained in the former Soviet Union after World War II. Here we met a senior citizen aged 98, who was an intern in Siberia during World War II for four years. It was very impressive to see how the museum shows the warm welcome by Maizuru people towards the returning soldiers and proclaims the value of peace to the world.
Our next two destinations in Maizuru were The Red Brick Museum and Tanabe Castle Museum. The Red Brick Museum was built in 1903 as a torpedo warehouse by the former Navy. It is the only museum in the world where you can see the bricks from all over the world, including the four great civilizations of the world, ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Greece.
Tanabe Castle Museum, where we tried on kimonos and samurai armour and enjoyed a tea ceremony, was built by the warlord Hosokawa Yusai in the late 16th century. The restored castle gate is now used as a museum, where visitors have the opportunity to wear samurai armour and join a tea ceremony. As a tea lover, I was excited to join and learn more about the tea ceremony of Japanese culture. The Japanese tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea. It is a meditation, a spiritual event, an appreciation of taste and beauty. You have to shut out the world and focus on the present moment, the sound of boiling water, the aroma of the tea, the texture of the tatami floor and the silk kimono (which is absolutely fantastic). Basically, the tea ceremony is a cherished part of Japanese culture. It is a celebration, not just of tea, but of life. It is a cleansing of your thoughts and a refilling of your soul. I was just amazed by this entire experience.
On 7 September, one of the essential plenary sessions at the 25th ICOM General Conference, which I attended, was a discussion about the proposition of a new museum definition. Terms included in the proposal, such as democratizing and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue, were challenged as not specific enough to reflect the diversity of the growing role of museums on a global scale. The proposed definitions are more general mission statements rather than a practical description.
Concerns were also raised around funding implications in countries where governments might find gaps in the new definition to justify withdrawing financial support. Though the definition update was widely considered as necessary in principle, the drafted alternative, voted at the end of the conference, made many to call for a longer review period.
After a profound and healthy debate among ICOM members, the Extraordinary General Assembly of ICOM decided to postpone the vote on the new museum definition.
Also, beneficial and interesting parts of the General Conference were social events providing a better understanding of the Japanese culture and society. I also joined the social events and visited Nijo-jo Castle; Kyoto Botanical Gardens; Garden of Fine Arts Kyoto; Kyoto Institute, Library, and Archives; Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts; Heian Jingu Shrine; Fushimi Inari Shrine; Hosomi Museum and Kyoto National Museum. Visiting many cultural places allowed me to explore the different aspects of Japanese heritage.
I was happy to see during the conference some fellows of the ITP family, including Lisa Hsu (China, ITP Fellow 2018), Wesam Mohamed (Egypt, ITP Fellow 2015), Shreen Amin (Egypt, ITP Fellow 2016), Noor Hassan (Egypt, ITP Fellow 2017), Elnzeer Tirab (Sudan, ITP Fellow 2017) and Dr Anna Garnett from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
Overall, the 25th ICOM General Conference was enormously beneficial for me as I got new ideas, experience. I also made new friends, expanded my professional network, and built new relations with museum professionals across the world for future projects and collaborations.